United sit five points out of a playoff spot with three games left to play. Houston and New York are currently above the cutoff line, both sitting on 43 points with two games left. Behind them is something called the Portland Timbers, who have 40 points with three games remaining. United have 38 points with three games still to play.
D.C. needs to catch two of the three teams above them. I’d bet (or would if anyone gambled in this country, which they do not, as it is illegal) that Houston and New York will get at least four points each from their last two games, putting them at 47. That’s nine points clear of where United are now.
Bottom line: United need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs.
The odds of an average soccer team winning any given game are about one in three (not one in two...ties! It’s soccer — we have lots of ties). So, the odds of winning three games in a row are about one in 27. That’s less than four percent. That’s lower than your odds of getting the flu this winter (5-20 percent each year), and lower than the odds of Shaquille O’Neal making five consecutive free throws (five percent). Basically: not good.
But wait! That calculation assumes “an average soccer team”. So, let’s not assume that United are average, even though everything about them this year has been so profoundly average that they might as well have “mediocrity” emblazoned on their chests (actually, they have “VW” emblazoned on their chests, and that’s not far off). Let’s dig a little deeper and examine some of the things that should slightly increase or decrease United’s odds of making the playoffs.
For starters, United’s final three games are all at home, so that should improve their chances. It should...but United are 4-3-7 at home. They’ve been a bit snake-bitten — or raccoon-bitten, as it were — at home, sacrificing several late leads that turned potential wins into ties. So we probably shouldn’t factor in any home-field advantage.
United have Dwayne De Rosario, arguably the best player in the league, so that improves their odds. However, United depend on De Ro about as much as Cher depends on auto-tune; way, way too much. If De Ro picks up even a minor injury, then I’d drop United’s odds to whatever is less than zero. You know: Rick Santorum-level probability.
United are highly-motivated, since making the playoffs has been their stated goal since the preseason. But motivation doesn’t seem to be United’s problem; they’ve put in a good effort in their past couple games. But moxie and pluck didn’t get them three points in Columbus. It didn’t get them three points in Vancouver (which would have been like 2.8 points American, but still). United need more than spirit — they need to start marking people in the back.
So, one in 27 — unfortunately — seems about right to me. I’m not ready to give up, not in a year that saw D.C. suffer an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week (probability: one in five zillion). But if United somehow surge into the playoffs, they will have truly beaten the odds.